Closed for 20-plus years, the old town dump in Williamson has not been good for much except as a trash graveyard.
You cannot build there. And unlike bigger landfills, the roughly 20 acres of fenced-off Wayne County land doesn’t even generate enough methane from the rotting refuse underground to be useful as a source of energy.
But today, deep in the heart of upstate New York apple country, the south face of that hump of land is covered with rows upon rows of solar panels — the largest solar power installation in the Rochester region and one of the largest in the state.
The Williamson Landfill Solar Project, made up of 4,940 solar panels, each about the size of a coffee table, went online just before New Year’s, after close to four months of installation. The 1,500-kilowatt project eclipses what had been the area’s largest, the 1,100-kilowatt solar panel installation at Bausch + Lomb Inc.’s solar panel array at its North Goodman Street plant. That installation, of nearly 3,700 solar panels, went online in November.
The power being generated at the closed town of Williamson landfill is for town operations — the town hall, the highway garage, and the town water and wastewater treatment plants.
Solar power’s nothing new to Williamson, which previously had smaller solar installations at its town hall and wastewater treatment plant.
“You’re looking at a town with forward-thinking ideas,” said Kevin Schulte, CEO of Sustainable Energy Developents Inc., the Ontario, Wayne County, renewable energy consulting and design firm. SED oversaw design and installation of the Williamson project.
The Empire State increasingly is positioning itself as the Sunshine State when it comes to solar power. In his State of the State speech this week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo pitched a tax break for people who purchase solar panels or energy from renewable sources. He also proposed 76West, a clean energy business competition aimed at the Southern Tier.
The Williamson array didn’t come cheap. The $3 million-plus installation actually is owned by Kenyon Energy, a Florida solar firm. Williamson buys its power from Kenyon, with an option to buy the solar array after six years, Schulte said. The Williamson installation came with a $1 million grant from NY-Sun, the state’s solar energy initiative, as well as federal solar tax credits.
Sitting atop the cap over the garbage, the solar panels themselves sit in metal frames that sit on the ground, weighted down with concrete blocks.
And instead of one or two big heavy inverters to change the power from DC to AC, there are 52 smaller ones, Schulte said.
For Williamson, going solar was a way of cutting its electric bill slightly and also locking in a guaranteed rate for the next 25 years, said Town Supervisor James D. Hoffman.
The town typically spends $220,000 to $250,000 a year on electricity, primarily because of its water and wastewater treatment plants, Hoffman said. The town expects to save about $27,000 in its first year, Hoffman said.
“It’s not huge amounts,” Hoffman said. “If you can save some money and reduce the carbon footprint, that is the way to go.
“And what else are you going to use the land for?”